If you watch our Twitch Channel, or have visited our YouTube Channel recently, you may have seen me playing through Alien Isolation, and getting rather tense as I do so. Now, the thing is, I don't dislike horror games, in fact I've quite enjoyed many of them (Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem), it's just that I'm not used to horror games actually being scary.
Oh god, oh god, oh god... Please go away...
It's been said that Triple A gaming can't do horror anymore as it's lost the ability to do subtle. Certainly, if one were to look at the recent Resident Evil offerings (5 and 6) compared with the original and fantastic GameCube remake (now also on PS4, PC and XBox One) you can see a stark contrast. The same can be said of the Silent Hill franchise. Worse, when looking at games like The Evil Within, the horror seems to come from gore, putting twisted ideas front-center, and cheap jump scares.
What do I mean by this? I mean that 'survival horror' games of late appear to rely more on shock tactics than on actual genuine scares. Like Holywood, gone are the subtle get-into-your-mind methods of horror that draw you to the edge of your seat in a cold sweat and hold you there. Now, it's all 'Hostel'-esque 'scares', where the emphasis is on excess gore or graphic violence rather than actual horror. It's gore-porn, basically, and it's not good horror.
Everyone remembers their first Crimson Head...
When I think of survival horror classics, I think of the Resident Evil remake for the Gamecube in 2002. I remember the dark corridors, the silhouettes of zombies clawing at the windows (and you were terrified that they'd eventually break through) and the general creepiness of the mansion. Sure, the game was loaded with jump-scares, but they worked so well because the game's atmosphere was so perfectly crafted to put you right on edge.
Nope, nope, nope, nope...
I think of Silent Hill 2, a game so creepy and messed up that it got it's hooks into my head, terrified me, but refused to let me switch the game off. I was in it for the long haul. There's one area in the late game where the character is in a courtyard with some gallows, and you can hear a horse galloping around. I spent a good twenty minutes or so edging around this courtyard with the tiny torch I had trying to find this monster and deal with it, before realising that it was just a sound effect, and I had been jumping at shadows. The game was beautifully twisted, and didn't need to rely on gore, just an unrelenting sense of claustrophobia, confusion, and dark tension.
It's strange that when Silent Hill 5 was revealed, the developers announced that the game would feature an opening questionnaire which would allow the game to really get into your head and scare you. Funny. Silent Hill 2 did that without a questionnaire and back in 2001 with far inferior technology.
The only moment in gaming to send me lunging for the power button.
I think of Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, the only game ever to make me Fear Quit. There's a part in the early game where the main character, Alex is exploring the bathroom and, well, take a look. At that point, I launched forwards and slammed that power button like Michael Jordan in the NBA final. Nope nope nope. It took 30 mins of Barney the Dinosaur on YouTube and a quick play of Sonic 2 before I could bring myself to load the game again. That game was famous for messing with your head, whether it be melting the environment, having your character randomly fall apart, or even pretend that your save data has corrupted, and this was back in 2002 on the damned Gamecube.
It's 2015 now, and we're on Playstation 4 and XBox One. The graphics we have now are unbelievably life-like, so why is it that the only game in the past 13 years to actually scare me is Alien Isolation? The answer is simple, literally. Simplicity. Alien Isolation relies on one thing, the Alien. The AI involved in that Alien is where all of the game's effort has been poured. SEGA haven't tried to make an action game, nor have they tried to do too much with it. They took a simple concept - you, on a spaceship, with an Alien - and ran with it. Because the Alien is hunting me, because there is only one of it and I have no idea when it's next going to show up, because it can, and indeed, will, show up anywhere... these are the facts that make this game terrifying. I cannot relax because, at any moment, I could run into the creature and have to peg it to the nearest locker - although, as latter parts of the stream will show you, that doesn't always end too well either, because that damn beast is learning.
All I can hope is that other developers will look at this and learn from it. Yeah, sure, we have next gen graphics now, but it's not all about the graphics. Remember, the only game to ever make me fear quit was back in 2002 on the Gamecube. What makes a scary game scary is the development of tension that brings you to the edge of your seat, then the atmosphere of threat that makes that deeply uncomfortable. The occassional jump scare doesn't hurt, in fact they can be truly terrifying, but it's just one of many tools in the horror belt.
What about you? What are your scariest moments in videogaming and what do you reckon made them work? Join us in the comments below!